Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Lowest Heaven

Title: The Lowest Heaven
Edited by: 

Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
Pages: 342
ISBN: 9780957169692
Publisher: Jurassic London
Published: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction / Anthology
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
Kobo (eBook)
Amazon (eBook)
Amazon (Paperback)
The Book Depository (Paperback)

The Lowest Heaven is a new anthology of contemporary science fiction published in partnership with the Royal Observatory Greenwich to coincide with Visions of the Universe, a major exhibition of space imagery.

Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley's Comet. The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from the archives of the Royal Observatory, while the book's cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi.

The Lowest Heaven had me hooked at their dedication, “To curiosity (big and little c)”. It’s something so simple, yet it sets the tone for the entire anthology. Each story takes a celestial body as inspiration and then embroiders them with fascinating ideas, concepts and characters where the only constraint is the author’s imagination.

The Lowest Heaven features a gorgeous cover by the very talented Joey Hi-Fi. He incorporates loads of little details, the relevance of which only become apparent after you’ve finished reading. Images drawn from the archives of the National Maritime Museum illustrate each story, adding a unique touch. This is one of those books where the physical copy is a beautiful object by itself, and that’s before taking the actual content into account.

The 17 stories included in the anthology draws from a diverse set of authors and covers the entire spectrum of science fiction; they range from the more mainstream, the slightly whimsical to the more serious trappings of hard SF. There are stories of wonder, stories of hope, but also stories with bittersweet endings that will stay with you long afterwards.

Although I enjoyed all the stories in the collection there were some that appealed to me far more than others.

A Map of Mercury – Alastair Reynolds
A visit to Mercury calls into question what it means to be human when an artist literally transforms herself, redefining both her art and her own form.
“He lowered on thrust until his little ship pinned itself to the surface of Mercury like a brooch” (p 34)
Reynolds has a knack for beautifully descriptive prose and uses this intricate trans-human tale to ask the biggest question of them all.

An account of a voyage from World to World again, by way of the Moon, 1726 – Adam Roberts
A Jules Verne-like voyage to the Moon reveals a startling truth about the aliens that inhabit it. I really enjoyed the tone and period style of this account. The revelation at the end is unexpected and hard-hitting.

WWBD – Simon Morden
The commander of a mission to Mars has a tough decision to make. Should he blindly follow his orders to exterminate the alien life discovered on the planet or should he sacrifice himself and his crew in order to follow his own judgement?
“We can send all the robots we like, but it takes humanity to put the soul into exploration” (p 143)
With Ray Bradbury as a supporting character this was one of my favourite stories. It’s both melancholy and hopeful at the same time and a very fitting tribute to Bradbury.
“Wouldn’t it be better to think that part of me is part of you? That everyone who’s ever read me makes me just a little bit alive?” (p 149)

We’ll always be here – S.L. Grey
Twin sisters in an orphanage are called upon to accomplish a tremendous task.
This story seemed a little juvenile at first with one of the characters being obsessed with America’s Next Top Model, but the tragic turn it takes towards the end took me by surprise. South Africans are guaranteed to chuckle at the very aptly named Eskombot, especially under the circumstances it makes its first appearance.

The Comet’s Tale – Matt Jones
Two teenage boys struggling to find their own place in the world are drawn into the clutches of a cult, which leads to a tragic conclusion. A truly touching story about unrequited love and sacrifice. The last line will tear your heart to shreds.

The Grand Tour – James Smythe
The Voyager probe returns to a post-apocalyptic world bringing with it the chance of a very unconventional salvation. I loved the captivating setting, the unique take on first contact and how it irrevocably changes both the aliens and humanity itself.

I relished every moment I spent reading The Lowest Heaven. Even after rationing myself to a story a day the end came far too quickly for my liking. The last story, The Grand Tour, ends with these apt words, “I wonder how far I’ll be carried; how far I can go”. And that, the pushing of boundaries into the unknown, that is what science fiction is all about.

The Verdict:
The Lowest Heaven is a stunning collection of short stories covering the entire spectrum of science fiction. The stories range from the more mainstream, the slightly whimsical to the more serious trappings of hard SF. As a whole the collection works extremely well in exploring humanity and our place in the Solar System. If you enjoy short stories and have even a passing interest in astronomy then this anthology will definitely not disappoint. It has something for every taste. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)

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